On his battle with NUT: We have too many quacks masquerading as teachers
By Ochereome Nnnana
Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State says the question of his party, All Progressive Congress (APC), zoning the presidency in the 2015 general elections does not arise as the party has no provision for it. The governor also, in this interview, speaks on his running battle with teachers over qualification, his efforts to address infrastructural deficit in Edo and the National Conference, among other issues. Excerpts:
The last time we heard you, you said you would never rest until all those responsible for the murder of Comrade Oyerinde Olaitan, your Principal Secretary, including the senior police officers allegedly shielding them, are brought to justice. What is the situation now, about one year later?
The last time I spoke on this was at the House of Reps, almost a year ago. I understand the House of Reps has released their report in which they advised the police and SSS to harness their findings and hand over the findings to the Edo State Director of Public Prosecution. That was the last I heard on the issue. I said everything you attributed to me, but I also have to recognize that there are things that are beyond me.
They say may God give you the patience to bear what you cannot change. I don’t have a police force. I have pushed the matter to the best of my ability. I have no new card to play. At this point. I hand the matter over to God. I can’t do much more than I have done, but it is a heavy burden in my heart which I have to live with.
The burning issue right now in Edo State is your effort to reform the educators. You have rebuilt schools but the people who make good education possible – the teachers – you have been having running battles with them over the need to identify the qualified ones among them through competency tests. Even though the problem is there all over the country, can you describe the peculiar situation in Edo State?
We have abandoned the idea of competency test for what we now call assessment test. The basic difference is that we want to assess the teachers in our employment to find out what is the level of their competence. That way we will be able to establish the level of assistance they require. For instance, a man who has a National Certificate of Education (NCE) but can’t teach will be put in the hands of experts to determine the kind of training he requires to make up for his deficiency.
If he has the knowledge but does not know how to impart the skill, an appropriate training can be designed. On the other hand, if we find that someone was not supposed to be a teacher at all; he is not even educated but somehow, due to corrupt practices, either through monetary inducement or political manipulations by successive governments and they were dumped on the system, such that their weaknesses cannot be cured through training and retraining, we will decide what to do with them.
If they cannot be redeployed to other areas where they can be useful, then they have to give way to others who have what it takes. We want to understand the nature of the problem besetting education in Edo State, that is why we call it assessment. We can help teachers to be upgraded through in-service training and refresher courses.
We need a lot of investment in education because that is the most important infrastructure. Infrastructure like roads, hospitals, electricity, water – those are conventional infrastructure that people can see. The most important infrastructure is human capital. And the foundation is primary and secondary education.
I think that is the logic behind compulsory basic education; that every child, irrespective of his economic circumstances, should have quality basic education. If you get the buildings, the furniture and other things right but the teacher is not competent, then all that investment will be wasted.
As I walk round the state, I often come across young pupils going or coming from school, most times in company of their parents. I look at the uniform and realise that it does not belong to one of the government schools. Some of the m are attending these mushroom private schools. Some of the schools operate from uncompleted buildings, no playgrounds, no sporting, recreational facilities.
Then I ask the kid, why do you like to go to that school?’ Or sometimes I ask, ‘have you seen the government schools, the red roof schools?’ They say ‘yes’. ‘So why are you not attending there?’ ‘My mummy or my daddy said no I should attend this one’. A couple of times I have had to interview their parents. They tell me they are happy with the way we have rebuilt the public schools but they are not sure of the teachers.
Across the country, everybody recognizes the crisis in the education sector. It is easy to see the dilapidated school buildings. What is not easy to see is the quality of the teaching staff. The result is that every year West African Examinations Council (WAEC) and other examination bodies announce 70 per cent failure. And we just move on.
We are producing children who do not have what it takes to be employable, or go into the university or polytechnic or even acquire technical education. You now have educated people who cannot read and write.
To underscore the problem, I came across a woman who, in the course verifying her credentials, could not read an affidavit. Instead of “I solemnly declare”, she said “1 Solomon”. Instead of “Judicial Province”, she said: “Onitsha Prophet”.
“Judicial” starts with “J”, yet she was confusing “Judicial” with “Onitsha”. “Province” is “Prophet”. We asked yet another teacher: ‘how many local governments are there in Edo State, list some of them?’ She said: “UNIBEN”. UNIBEN is a local government! I mean, I don’t want to talk about it. We saw things like these in the process of checking credentials, and we realised that the problem goes beyond ghost teachers, or teachers refusing rural postings, but that there are people parading as teachers who are not.
We have too many quacks masquerading as teachers. And the moment I realised this, it was only natural that I had to find courage to deal with this human element which makes all the difference. I started meeting with the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), civil society organizations, we had town hall meetings. In all these meetings, civil society, human rights organizations, royal fathers, community leaders, market women all said yes, teachers must do this test.
The more the teachers are hesitant, the more members of the public are wondering: ‘why are you refusing to do this?’ Governance has deteriorated in Nigeria, and everybody has tried to find his own private solution. There is no way society can make progress when those who should find solutions to problems are finding solutions to their own personal problems. Even in the education sector, if you are rich, you take your children to US, UK, even Ghana.
If you are poor, you look for a private school set up in a three-bedroom flat, and if you are too poor, you are trapped in your poverty. Everybody should find the courage to confront the problem of bad governance. Some of our people come to me and say: ‘you should take it easy with these people because politically they are very sensitive’. What can be more sensitive than compromising the future of our children? You cannot be in government without driving change.
If our electorate were sensitive, by the time WEAC results are out and a particular state records 70% failure, the party in power will never rule again in a long time. Two weeks ago, I was in London, and the debate was that the performance of children in British schools in Mathematics had declined. The British government was looking in the direction of encouraging Chinese to come and teach Mathematics in British schools.
Nobody needs to be in government office if he does not have the liver to deal with the problems threatening the future of our country. My fear for Nigeria is not just the number of unemployed people but the fact that 90% of these people are unemployable. As our economy gets bigger, many big industries will be coming up, but do we have the skilled manpower to fill them? So, I am very passionate about this and I have no choice but to push it to conclusion and damn the consequences.
Some weeks ago when the assessment test was held, it was reported that only about 70 teachers were accredited as the rest refused to turn up. Why do you think teachers are shying away from an exercise aimed at assisting them to get better in their chosen profession?
Those who know they are not supposed to be addressed as teachers will do everything to block it. Many fear that they will not pass. It is not about pass or fail but to see how we can help those who need help. Many of them turned up but the union officials prevented them from going in to do the test. There were scuffles in various locations, and to avoid violence the security agents decided to manage the situation.
Another thing was this black market injunction which was issued by the President of the Industrial Court. I use my words carefully: a black market injunction purportedly issued by Justice Adejumo. Because the court is a creation of the law, it cannot do violence to the law. The NUT, I understand, had applied for injunction at Akure Division of the court which covers Edo State.
The judge, in his wisdom, asked that the government be placed on notice and fixed a date for hearing, only for Justice Adejumo, in Abuja, in another division of the same court, to issue another injunction restricting Edo State government from assessing its teachers. It is so ridiculous. This purported court order was never served on us, but I heard that NUT officials photocopied the injunction and were circulating it.
We have written a petition to the National Judicial Council (NJC). Justice Adejumo cannot turn the Industrial Court to his own instrument that he can use according to his own whims and caprices. We will see to the end of it. I have a duty to the Edo child, to the Edo people. The responsibility of government is to protect the interest of the public, particularly when it is clear that if certain things are not done the collective interests of our people will be compromised.
The bane of our society is that people look at what is politicially convenient, but I believe in the dictum that a politician looks at the next election but a statesman looks at the next generation.
What strategies are you employing to overcome the infrastructural deficit of Edo State?
We adopted a programme to open up the state to develop the rural areas and pursue urban renewal. Lee Kuan Yew says “from the airport you make a statement”. I remember when we started to do the Airport Road, the PDP said it was not viable, as we would destroy people’s homes. Even a section of the Oba’s palace was at the risk of being demolished. We had to do a couple of things which every governor should do: find courage to remove illegal structures.
The real challenge was in finding the funds but I have since realised that it is not how much you have but how you manage the little that you have. Across the three senatorial districts we built roads, hospitals and connected many areas with modern amenities.
The PDP in Edo State appears to have reunited its factions and are now saying they will retrieve the state from APC come next election. What is your reaction?
Perhaps they think they want to rule a conquered nation. They underestimate the capacity of the people to resist what they do not want. I have taken risks to serve this country. If people want to manipulate themselves into power against the wishes of Edo people, we will fight; there is no doubt about that. I know, as things are today, PDP cannot win election in Edo State.
If they are saying they will will use federal instruments to criminally rig elections, it remains to be seen whether they want to kill all of us or how they want to do it. For the remaining years of my life, I will stand on my fight to fight for truth and justice, as for free and fair elections, not only in Edo State but the nation at large. Edo people have accepted the principle of one man one vote. We launched it here, and even the President has keyed into it.
The federal agencies are not PDP agencies. The uniform of the armed forces are for Nigerians, not for a political party. The country is greater than any political party. I want to tell the old men who use such terms that even though they introduced rigging they should repent because if they die in sin hell will be their portion.
Does APC believe in zoning of offices like the presidency, governorship and others? If the answer is yes, then what is the difference between APC and PDP?
As far as I know, there is no provision for zoning in the APC constitution. And, therefore, it means that there is no zoning.
But it is already widely speculated that the presidential candidate of the APC for the 2015 election will come from the North?
The way to find out is to look at the APC constitution and see whether there is provision for zoning. It is not about what the people say or speculate. In the PDP, it is in their constitution. In the APC constitution, there is nothing like that. Number two, the organs where a decision is taken is during a convention where rules are made, amended or approved, or at the National Executive Council where major decisions are taken. To the best of my knowledge, at no meeting of the organs of the APC have we ever discussed zoning let alone adopting it.
I know you are not an enthusiast of the ongoing National Conference, but can you suggest how it can help to reduce the cost of governance in the country?
In Edo State we did not have to do do a state conference in order to be able to increase capital vote or put more money in order to carry out projects. Nations do not need National Conference in order to restructure expenditure. When I got to Edo State, 80% of our annual expenditure was for recurrent vote leaving 20% for capital. Even the quality of the capital vote was a problem. We decided from day one that we were going to revise it to 60/40 ratio, 60 capital and 40% recurrent.
I did not need to convene a conference of Edo ethnic nationalities to reduce the cost of governance, so I do not believe a conference is required to achieve that purpose. Cost of governance cannot be addressed by a conference. I am surprised that you think it can. Cost of governance is not in the rules. It is in the habit. It does not require a serious research to establish what is already in the public domain, namely, that what is required to maintain a senator the president of the US does not earn it.
So it is not even the presidential system that is responsible for the high cost of governance in our democracy. There was this report a couple of years ago which showed that some members of the British parliament made some double claims, some claimed ten thousand pounds for accommodation and other small expenditures, and for the British media and public this was a scandal.
And I remember the Prime Minister, David Cameron, saying that any of the members involved would lose their seats, and they did. Here we are, we public office holders have suites in the first class of British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa, Emirates and Qatar Airways. How we structure our budget is not a function of the style of our government. This goes into the heart of what we call good governance.
Is it a party or government of the day that makes this decision? Given the number of Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government, more than 500 of them, what can a regime really do to pare down the recurrent wage bill unless the constitution devolves power and reduces the size of government?
No, no, no. that is the blackmail element. The recurrent expenditure is not synonymous with salaries and wages paid to workers who work. If you analyse the content of recurrent expenditure carefully you will be shocked that wages are not the major problem. I know for a fact that when we went for conferences, the Nigerian delegation was (and still is) the largest.
And yet when you get to the committee levels, the Nigerians are not present. They are all at the various shopping malls. That was where I learnt one interesting thing about foreign travels, and why it is a major source of self-help in the public service. If a minister says he is travelling for a conference of three weeks he collects the estacode for three weeks, he collects the estacode for three weeks, spends five days and comes back.
He doesn’t need to retire the daily travel allowance he collects. It is not uncommon to find a man whose salary is N100,000 a month, his estacode is $600 a day. One day estacode can pay his salary for one month. If he manages to corner two weeks trip he has earned over a year salary. It is all part of the recurrent expenditure. There are all kinds of wastages in the system.
That’s why the most booming industry in Nigeria is seminars and workshops, and the new thing the public service does is to organise these seminars and workshops through consultants. Consultancy is the best way to defraud a government because there is no price on the shelf. It is a willing buyer and a willing seller. The simple gadget these days is an ipad and a small projector for powerpoint presentation and you can just pick up a million dollars, two million dollars consultancy. Wastages in the system go way beyond salaries and wages.